In the Memory of Meriam Salamah: Widow of Paramount Leader Ismail al-Azhary

By: Aisha Braima

KHARTOUM (SUDANOW)— The city of Omdurman was in the 1940s surging with patriotic sentiment conducted by national figures who sought, in varying degrees, to achieve independence for the Sudan. The political arena was at the time dominated by two trends- Independent and Unionist.
The struggle of that generation, as related by renowned politician and Graduates' Congress Founder Ahmed Khair, was undoubtedly led by late Ismail al-Azhary, the supreme leader of the struggle for glory and independence.
Motivated by pledges made during World War II to colonized peoples for self-determination, the Graduates' Congress, posing as a representative of the Sudanese people, put forward a memorandum demanding this right in 1942. The British Administration, however, not only responded violently and denied the Congress the right to speaking on behalf of the people but also, in a preemptive move, blocked the way before it by promulgating the Consultative Council Act for North Sudan in 1943.
In the meantime, Ismail Al-Azhary was elected the first chairman of the first political party in the Sudan, that was the Ashiqa'a (brothers) Party which was founded by late prominent politician Yahia al-Fadly and nine friends when they were students. The election coincided with the end of World War II when the Sudanese nationalist movement widely spread and the self-determination was a priority for the political activity. This entailed an active movement of delegations going abroad and formation of political parties and trade unions.
Under those circumstances it must be noted that late leader Ismail Al-Azhary excelled his peers with inspiration and foresight. That period witnessed an important event in Azhary's personal life- his marriage in 1942 to Sayyedah/ Meriam Mustafa Salamah who passed away last March in Azhary house in Omdurman at 91 years of age which she devoted to the service of the leader, his family and the nation.

Religious Upbringing:
The deceased Meriam was born in Um Rawabah town in 1924, of an Egyptian stock. Her mother was Nusaibah Mustafa Qabil and her father was Mustafa Salamah Aga who served as a cashier for the Government of Sudan in various parts of the country.
Late Meriam's upbringing was religious and she was accustomed to fasting on Monday and Thursday of each week, the first day of Sha'ban (before Ramadan), mid-Sha'ban and Arafat Day (pilgrimage peak). She learned from her family how good to fast on those blessed days of the year. Her father was pious reciting the Holy Koran after dawn prayers everyday and by the end of each month he used to complete reciting the Holy Koran and start anew.
She gave birth to one son- Mohamed Azhary who died in a traffic accident in 2006- and five daughters- Amal who is married to Dr. Mutasem Habiballah, Samia who was married Brig. Eng. Osman Amin then to Naval Captain Hassan Sherif, Sumayah who is married to Poet Al-Fatih Hamadtu, Sana'a who is married to Banker Kamal Hassoun and Jala'a who is married to Professor Abdul Rahim Karrar.
Deceased Meriam had five brothers her father named after prophets; they are: Yusuf, an architect, Zachariah a pilot, Eissa, an ambassador, Mussa, a contractor and Mohamed, an engineer. She had three sisters: Durriyah, Ni'mat and Samira who is a novelist with two published novels: the Sad Bank and Heaven's Justice.
Late Meriam was a relative to Dr. Jamal al-Utaify, a famous Egyptian politician, her cousin, and Dr. Sofi Abu Talib, a former Egyptian Parliament speaker, the husband of her cousin.

Azhary's Wedding:
The wedding of Ismail Al-Azhary was not much celebrated as the habit was during those days. Not even henna was applied to his feet and palms, like any other bridegroom, due to the death of his mother.
When she moved to Masalmah quarter in Omdurman to share residence with Azhary's family, her mother advised her to let her husband exercise his duties towards his family, even to assist him in carrying out those duties.
The mother also advised her daughter Meriam to be content, not to wish what others possess and to forget that she was no longer in her father's home entertaining herself but had become a wife and had to shoulder the responsibility of the marriage.
Late Meriam left a pious family for a similarly pious one. For this reason, she used to bring her children together, like what her parents used to do, and recite to them the prayer of the legitimate means of subsistence, good health and long life, particularly after the mid-Sha'ban sunset breakfast.
At that time, the girls' education ended by completing the teachers' college to qualify for teaching. However, Meriam's father believed in education, rather than work, for girls. She therefore continued her studies at home by respected private teacher Madame Wadiah Shidayat from whom Meriam learned a great deal that she benefited from throughout her life.

Sheikh Furghul Birthday Celebration in Abu Teej:
Among the early childhood memory for late Meriam was the image of the celebration marking Sheikh Furghul birthday in Abu Teej in Upper Egypt where she belonged. Her great-grandfather was Sultan Furghul, who was famous for his miracles. Arrangements for the celebration began on Thursday eve by preparing caskets of the deceased sheikhs, religious leaders, from the neighboring regions carried on camels' backs. Those caskets were placed in front of Furghul Mosque. At dawn on Friday Furghul's casket was brought out of his Mosque to be carried in the front of a procession, followed Minister Abu Hussein's casket, then that of his disciple Mikhaimir and his cousin. The descendants of Sheikh Furghul, wearing bright green tags moved in the front followed by the music band, then the procession of the caskets, about 85 in number. The procession used to start from the beginning to the end of Abu Teej and return to Furghul Mosque to disperse. It was a joyous seasonal carnival.
Late Meriam's marriage to Azhary was a great responsibility for her to be the wife of a man who wished to liberate the Sudan and he did it.
At the beginning of her married life, she used to miscarry, but she had a feeling of maternity towards Azhary's youngest sister (Um Almekarim) whom she brought up before giving birth to children and Um Almekarim used to call her "Mamma".

The Policy Backstage:
Deceased Meriam was not away from Azhary's political life and from the Graduates Congress backstage. She was aware of the deliberations of its meetings in the Graduates Club, especially those held at Azhary's house. She contributed by preparing such emergency meals as ground nuts, chick-peas, dates and biscuits.
In addition to serving members of her family, late Meriam used to play host to the colleagues and friends of Azhary who used to have meals at home. Her readiness to welcome Azhary's colleagues developed into welcoming any person who wanted Azhary to do him a service at home.
At the beginning of Meriam's married life, the slogans of liberty and independence widely spread among the people. This resulted in organization of political symposia, meetings and demonstrations. At the start of each demonstration Azhary used to deliver a speech, announcing loudly: "We all know that the British own not a single stone of our country. They own nothing other than their clothes with which they will get out, God willing Therefore there is no need for subversion." And eventually there was no subversion and the demonstrations were peaceful.
An anecdote relates that a master-sergeant policeman, exhausted by chasing and dispersing the demonstrators, frantically shouted:"Your children have maddened us by chanting like Satan-stricken 'ahrar …ahrar… ahrar' (free) all the time."
One unforgettable event was that, following one demonstration, Azhary came back home and ordered a glass of light tea while his father was sitting close to him. Meriam fetched the tea but she did not find him and before she asked, the father told her: "Abbaro (chief security agent) came in and told him he is wanted and he went out to spend four months in prison."
May Almighty God bless virtuous Madame Meriam Salamah for the service she offered her husband, her family and the Sudan at large.


Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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